It lasted three innings – the optimism, the MVP chants, the dazzling display that saw eight of nine Cubs retired by strikeout, one feebly-waving bat more perplexed than the last.
But days after being taken out after six innings for right flexor tendinitis in his elbow, Jacob deGrom was shut down again – this time after those three innings, and this time with right shoulder soreness. The Mets won again, 6-3 at Citi Field, for their sixth win in seven games, but though all wins are good wins, it would be fair to say this one stung more than most.
Six relievers combined to limit the Cubs to only three hits – good news in the short term, though not completely ideal: Thanks to two upcoming doubleheaders, the Mets will play the next seven games in five days, and there’s no telling how long they’ll be without deGrom, who is slated to start Monday. The Mets had actually allowed just a single hit until the ninth, when Drew Smith allowed two runs on Rafael Ortega's homer. Edwin Diaz came in to get the one-out save, his 14th,secured thanks to Mason Williams’ diving catch in center.
DeGrom said after the game that the soreness popped up suddenly in the third and was located in the back of his shoulder. Preliminary strength tests showed no signs of weakness, he said, but he’s slated to get more imaging Thursday.
"It’s getting old, you know – I want to be out there competing," deGrom said. "I’m pretty confident that this is nothing…[but] I expect to go out there and give us depth and I haven’t done that like I expect out of myself. The bullpen has done a great job of picking me up, but I can’t keep doing that to those guys"
Rojas said he remained optimistic that deGrom would be OK, but wasn’t sure if an injured list stint would be in the pitcher’s future.
"I think tomorrow will be a big day for us as far as getting more results from tests and then we’ll see," he said. "At the beginning, I am concerned that this thing is happening again, and we want to find out what it is, but then, during the game I got a report, we could call it an encouraging report... [then] I talked to Jake after the game and his level of concern was low as well."
Before that, deGrom looked about as good as he has all season. He was regularly hitting 100-mph with his fastball and his slider was crisp. He even threw in an RBI single for good measure – his sixth RBI of the season, which already matches a career high. His batting average climbed to a somewhat absurd .423.
But despite his dominance this season – he now boasts a 0.54 ERA – it hasn’t been an easy year for the two-time Cy Young Award winner. He’s had back tightness in two places, and then elbow tendinitis last Friday. It was then that deGrom, a dedicated student of his own arm health, remained unequivocal that it was nothing to worry about. He had dealt with this in the past, he said, and he was already starting to feel better. He wouldn’t have to miss a start.
He said he doesn’t believe the shoulder soreness is a result of him compensating for his elbow. He doesn't know if he'd benefit from rest regardless, but he's loath to miss any starts, he said.
"This is frustrating," he said. "I want to be out there as I can be out there and I felt really good tonight early on and then, in the third, I just got pretty sore and I said something and that was it…It’s just frustrating coming out of games like that."
The departure put a pall on what was otherwise a happy night at Citi Field. DeGrom was routinely greeted with M-V-P chants, though none as loud as in the second inning, when he was batting against Cubs starter Robert Stock.
With the Mets up by one and Kevin Pillar at second, deGrom worked a full count after going down 0-and-2 and then lined a 98-mph fastball to right for the RBI single. DeGrom then came back in the third to strike out the next three before making his hasty exit.
Despite that, the Mets offense kept clicking without him. They went up 3-0 on Dominic Smith’s home run in the third, his sixth.
The Cubs got one back in the fourth, on Rizzo’s homer off Sean Reid-Foley, but it wasn’t enough to combat Stock’s wildness. He walked three batters in the fourth, including one with the bases loaded. Smith’s groundout scored another run for his second RBI of the game. In the fifth, Pillar homered against reliever Cory Abbott for the 6-1 lead.
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